The people who cut our hair are the most trustworthy humans alive. I don’t think that’s a stretch; barbers and hairdressers collectively harbor more secrets than the CIA and the FBI combined. Who among us has not confided in their regular barbiera? They hear all the gossip–they know who’s fucking who, they know how people are going to vote, and they know what grinds our gears and keeps us awake at night. If they were to ever unionize as an industry, they would immediately wield immense power simply by threat of blackmail.
They’re also the most honest. People who earn a living by sculpting and snipping hair into something fashionable have no time for bullshit and deceit. They’ll tell you if your brilliant idea for a new hairstyle will make you look like an idiot and that there’s a reason you’ve worn your hair the same way for years. They’ll also tell you when the opposite is true. And likewise, they’ll let you know that the big life crisis you’re dealing with this week is really not that serious, and that you should probably relax.
In a topsy-turvy world that is rarely kind or even sensible, we are blessed to have our barbers, hairdressers, stylists and colorists lead us as moral beacons in the darkness. If we cannot trust these people to be honest and frank with us, and us with them, then we have truly lost our way as a nation.
I love my barber. I trust him with my ridiculous haircut, and I trust him to be real with me in the 30 to 45 minutes a month I spend in his chair. We come from similar backgrounds, have similar senses of humor, and–most importantly–like the same kind of music. So, we get along, even if we lead different lives. He’s only a little bit older than me, but his life is far more put together than mine. He owns his own shop, and has a wife and a kid at home in a house they own. Not bad for a circa-30-year-old Napalm Death fan.
So when I walked into his downtown Springfield shop on a gorgeous March afternoon, I knew two things were going to happen. For one, I knew he was going to roast me about how long it’s been since my last haircut. But more importantly, I knew we were going to have a talk about the coronavirus–because that’s the kind of conversation one has with their barber.
In fact, it was the second thing we talked about, right after we did our usual back-and-forth dance about what to do with the mess on my head. After much deliberation, we settled on my usual haircut, with a twist. As he began to hack away at my hair with his big silver scissors, freshly sanitized with what smelled like Everclear, my barber launched right into it.
“So, the guys and I are convinced that we’ve already had and gotten over the coronavirus,” he began, smirking into the mirror. “Just a heads up in case you start feeling sick in the next few days.” I laughed, but it turned out that him and his fellow barbers had all passed around a “gnarly” illness at the start of January but had gotten over it within a few days. Just some weird flu bug, but nothing dramatic. But, once the outbreak hit the States and became the only thing (other than the election) that anyone could talk about, the three barbers retroactively took note of their symptoms and thought “huh... maybe...”
He noted that he wasn’t really worried about the virus, but he was worried about both his son and his dad. After he pointed out that Springfield has more right-wing nutjobs than Eugene (my words), he admitted that he was also a little worried about people losing their mind if things got worse. I agreed, and added that I was surprised that things hadn’t begun to spiral out of control in our little part of the world just yet.
We went back and forth like this for a while, catching each other up on our respective takes on the entire coronavirus saga while the barber buzzed away my winter mullet. None of it was all that serious–it was little more than complaints about society’s propensity to descend into hysteria at even the smallest sign of trouble. Eventually, we agreed that while things seemed to be getting dark, we had little reason to be worried. But that was all we allowed ourselves to talk about, and our conversation eventually moved onward. There were far more important things to discuss, like the relative merits of Title Fight, the recent Locust reunion tour, memories of Warped Tours long since past, and the strange phenomenon of being a punk long after you've outgrown the music. After all, there’s only so much bad news I or anyone else can handle; even the most hardcore nihilists must tire of being reminded of their own mortality.
Before long, the barber had finished his work, and I paid him his usual fee and tip. We embraced and wished each other well, but not before he offered a parting joke about the virus to the great discomfort of his next client, who was patiently waiting on the couch by the door.
“See you soon man,” he said, betrayed by his smile. “Thanks again for hooking us up with those cruise tickets.
”I laughed as I pushed my way through the glass door into the warm spring sunshine. Then, as I lit a cigarette on the sidewalk outside, I realized that I’d just had my warmest, friendliest conversation in over a week. No pressure, no panic, no anxiety–just a regular conversation with a regular person on a regular Tuesday. Maybe things won’t be so bad. After all, I trust my barber more than anything I read in the news. And if I can’t trust my barber, who else is there?
M.G. Belka is a writer, journalist, and editor based out of Eugene, Oregon. That being said, he never would’ve achieved any of those titles had he not learned the true meaning of labor through a decade of work in the service industry. The author learned more about the human condition during a six-month stint as the sole employee of a mini-golf course than he could ever hope to discover in a university classroom. And don’t even get him started on the time he worked as a bar back at a honky-tonk nightclub in North Carolina. You can find more of his work at mgbelka.com or on twitter.
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